I stepped off the plane in Vietnam at 10:30pm. As I exited the airport, my senses were flooded with new information. Clashing scents of delicious food and thick smog filled my nose. Blurred by the pouring rain, flashing colorful lights lit up the hazy street. Warring taxi drivers shouted Vietnamese prices, offering to drive me to the city. I was exhausted from traveling but filled with excitement to explore this new land and begin my research.
I came to Vietnam to study the burden of traumatic injuries and use of emergency medical services (EMS). Traveling on the roadways, I quickly formed a hypothesis where most injuries occurred. Cars were the minority and motorbikes filled every street, walkway and space they could fit. I saw vehicles driving into opposing traffic to turn down narrow, crowded streets, motorbikes carrying three and four passengers well over capacity and small children on motorbikes standing between the legs of their parents as they casually drove along. Crossing the road as a pedestrian felt like the classic arcade game Frogger. I had to eye a potential path and just start walking into traffic where confidence, patience and luck were the only safety precautions.
Arriving at Hanoi Medical University (HMU), I was treated like a guest of honor and felt right at home. I lived in the dorms amongst local medical students and other international public health students. The students were kind enough to take me out to lunch in local markets and showed me the best spots in town. We built a great mutual relationship where they assisted with translating the research materials and navigating the Vietnamese medical system and I offered training in research skills and opportunities to practice their English speaking and writing.
The first few weeks consisted of familiarizing myself with HMU Hospital and medical system. The director of HMU Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) took me under his wing and introduced me to his dedicated staff. The modest 15-bed ED, was all too similar to the ED I work in here in Orange County. Staff worked busy 12-hour shifts, functioned as a well-oiled team, and did everything within their control to help patients seeking emergency medical services. I learned as much directly observing and interacting with local providers as I did conducting formalized research. Both played an important role in helping me to better understand behaviors in health, patient care and the overall health system.
Outside of work, I had great opportunities to travel to Hạ Long Bay, spend time in the quaint Old Quarter in Hanoi, and immerse myself in Vietnamese culture. I shared a meal with a local public health expert at a restaurant where Anthony Bourdain and President Barack Obama had once sat, sang and danced at a Vietnamese karaoke hall with hospital friends, and broke bread together with my ED director and fellow researchers in EMS visiting from Japan.